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[Page 148]

Poalei Zion Socialist Zionists

by Avraham Fiterman of Buenos Aires

Translated by Jerrold Landau

An awakening of communal life in Mezritsh took place at the end of the First World War. The General Zionists, under the leadership of well-off circles, founded their own organization, and religious Zionism set up its own party, called Mizrachi. Zionist youth movements began to pop up as the emphasis on pioneering began. At that time, various meeting places for the parties arose: the Tzeirei Zion [Young Zion] hall opened on Lublin Street, as well as the Poalei Zion hall, called “Di Arbeiter Heim[1]. The latter had mottoes displayed prominently on the walls: “Workers of all the lands, unite,” and “Support the fund for the workers of the Land of Israel.”


mie148.jpg Flower Day to benefit Keren Kayemet LeIsrael [Jewish National Fund]
Flower Day to benefit Keren Kayemet LeIsrael [Jewish National Fund]


The parties conducted meetings and lectures, which attracted large audiences. Elections for the first Polish Sejm [parliament] took place. The Jews had the right to vote and to be elected. As a city of Jews, Mezritsh became a political battlefield. In homes of parents with were several children, it was impossible to sit [calmly] around the table: one was a Zionist, the second was a Bundist, and the third was a Communist or Folkist. The battle moved from the street to the inside of the home, and the parents would thank G-d when the children were not together…

One brother calling another brother a chauvinist, a reactionary, or a traitor to the working class was a daily occurrence. Leaders of the factions, such as Yitzchak Grynbaum, Dr. Hartglas, Jarblum, Yisrael Szorek, Silbert, Yisrael Mariminski, Noach Prylucki, B. Michalwicz, Hershel Himelfarb, “Comrade Dina,” and others came to the election meetings from Warsaw.

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mie149.jpg Poalei Zion Socialist Zionists in 1925
Poalei Zion Socialist Zionists in 1925


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During these meetings, which were arranged in the synagogue or the large Beis Midrash, the crowd would literally be bursting out the doors. On occasion, the meetings were held in the marketplace, with the speaker delivering his lecture from a balcony. During these meetings, someone would inevitably get up to dispute the speaker's words…

When the pioneering movement arose, members from Mezritsh made aliya to the Land. One of the first chalutzim [pioneers] was David Manperl. He wrote that his situation was good, and that he was stretching telephone wires atop tall posts…

When the right-left schism took place within the Poalei Zion party, the following members separated from the chapter in our city: Gershon Tandajter, Lipman Geltman, Berish Ber, Hershele Kamaszn-Stapar [the gaiter stuffer], Chipa Epsztejn, Leibel Barnak, and others. These were the members of the Leftist Poalei Zion. The following remained in Poalei Zion, which was from then called the Rightist Poalei Zion: Pesach Saposznikow, Yosef Rajnwajn, Berl Manperl, David Gerechter, Yeshoshua Ajzen, and others.

At that time, the civil war broke out in the Soviet Union, and the Red Army approached Mezritsh. The leaders of the workers in the city, including Mottel Goldberg of Tzeirei Zion, were arrested. They brought him, under heavy guard, to the railway station and deported him to his native city of Dombia near Krakow. The war did not last long. The deportees returned, and communal and political life in the city again flourished and bustled.


The Unification Convention

With the passage of time, differences of opinion increased within the Tzeirei Zion movement regarding the issues of Zionism and Socialism. Many members turned toward the rightist Poalei Zion party, whereas others continued to identify with the unique path of Hapoel HaTzair, which expressed itself by its refusal to join the International Socialist Movement {The Second International}, and in its zeal for the Hebrew language as the language of the Jewish people, in contrast to Poalei Zion, which supported the use of Yiddish...

In the autumn of 1923, a national convention of Tzeirei Zion was organized. A majority decision was taken with regard to uniting with the rightist Poalei Zion. A schism took place in the party. The issue left its mark on the members of Poalei Zion in our city. Stormy debates took place and a fight broke out regarding the ownership of the premises. The Central Committee [of Poalei Zion] became involved and sent in Yisrael Mariminski and others.

Most of the members went with Poalei Zion. The most prominent of them were Menachem Ber, Chaim Mordechai Zalcsztejn, Yosel Cymbrowicz (Avishai), Shmuel Rozenzweig, Hershel Lederman Sarache Tiszel, Mottel Goldberg, Chana Holcman, Eliezer Perkelwald, Menashe Dzyk, and others.

On the right, opposing the unification, were Nota Hausman, Leibel Glozsznajder, Mordechai Sztejn, Moshe Tron, Yankel Lebenglik, Hershel Bojgman, Herzl Szejnmel, and others.

After about a year, the two factions, Tzeirei Zion and Poalei Zion, gathered for a joint convention at which they officially declared their unification under the name of Poalei Zion Zionists-Socialists.

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The rightist branch of Tzeirei Zion that had seceded set up its own party called Hitachdut. It is appropriate to note that the Hitachdut chapter in our town quickly became one of the largest and most important chapters in the entire district. Similarly, Poalei Zion Zionists-Socialists became a strong party that stood out in all areas of life in our city. It especially penetrated the professional unions, such as the unions of the tailors, tanners, sewers, and others.

At weddings and parties, money would be collected for the planting of trees in the Herzl Forest. The Keren Kayemet box was hung on the walls of the houses. On occasion, “flower days” were held for the benefit of the Keren Kayemet. These had a dual function, to implant the Zionist ideal as well as to collect money to redeem land.

During the second election campaign for the Sejm, a fierce [political] battle broke out. At that time, the various [political] parties were already operating in Mezritsh: The Zionist parties, the Bund, The Folkspartei, and others. The campaign began a long time before the elections. The walls were covered with declarations and announcements calling on the public to vote for one party or another. Each party made promises. People once again came from Warsaw: Berel Luker (then a member of the Second International), Noach Prylucki, H. D. Nomberg, Dr. Hartglas, Rytuw, Tyger, Yitzchak Grynbaum, D. B. Malchin, B. Michlowicz, Gershon Zybert, and others. The same battle was repeated during the elections for the city council and the community.


mie151.jpg The HeChalutz Organization in our city
The HeChalutz Organization in our city


We will mention here the establishment of the HeChalutz chapter in our city. Several members set up a group to study carpentry in order to prepare themselves for aliya to the Land. Shlomo and Moshe Lebenglik (grandchildren of Reb Baruch Meir), who settled in the Borochov neighborhood, were among the first members of HeChalutz to make aliya. The members of HeChalutz in Mezritsh occupied themselves with manufacturing benches.

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I brought the first benches, hand-made by the members, to 4 Dzyka Street in Warsaw, for the Central Committee. At that time, I was a delegate to the tanners' convention, representing the professional union of Mezritsh, in which I served as the secretary. Later, HeChalutz HaTzair [Young HeChalutz] was established, and opened up a meeting place in the home of Shepsl Sztejn, where there had once been a pig-bristle workshop. One of the principal members was Moshe Ajdelbaum, who had been one of the leaders of HeChalutz HaTzair in Poland, and later became one of the first activists of Kupat Cholim [the Sick Fund] in the Land of Israel.


mie152.jpg Members of the Drama Club
Members of the Drama Club

First row, right to left: Noach Podoliak, Pesach Saposznikow, A. D. Dimant, Berl Manperl, Gavriel Szapira
Second row: Mordechai Szapira, Davidche Wydra, Meshashe Himelszaj, Yosef Rajnwajn


Vibrant Activity

In the meantime, the economic situation in Mezritsh worsened. The bristle workers were unemployed. People were wandering around searching for somewhere to go. Certificates for aliya to the Land were given out after an examination, which took place in the home of Yosef “Konik”. In order to take the examination, a person was required to know Hebrew, to be a Zionist, and to have given a shekel [the token of membership in the Zionist organization].

At that time, prospective chalutzim from the border districts of Poland came to Mezritsh. They were forced to wait their turn to receive a permit for aliya. In the meantime, they

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were housed in the hall of Poalei Zion Socialists-Zionists, and the members provided them with food and set them up with work. The chalutzim lived a communal life.

For some time, the Poalei Zion Socialist Zionists also supported the drama club that performed the following plays: Village Youth, The Empty Inn, The Atrocity, The Perpetual Wanderer, The Dybbuk, The Miser, The Great Achievement, and others.

Lectures on literary topics took place constantly. The following people would come often and offer presentations: D. B. Malchin, Rytow, Tyger, Chefetz, and Dr. Heker. The following actors also came: Avraham Morawski, Yaakov Wyslic, and others. The following people were members of the drama club: Gavriel Szapira, Mordechai Szapira, and Yosef Rajnwajn, Yenta Kac, and her sister, Hershel Lederman, Pesach Saposznikow, Berl Manperl, Mottel Goldberg, Mottel Bruk, Baruch Solski, Gisha Himelszajn, Chaim Mordechai Zalcsztejn, Davidche Wydra, Bashka Himelsztejn, Rachel Gelberg, Menashe Himelsztejn, Esther Tandajter, Aharon David Dimant, and others.

As long as life continued, Zionist communal and public life continued. When the extermination overtook our brothers and sisters, Jewish life was cut off in Poland, and so too in our native city of Mezritsh.

From Yiddish: Y. Ronkin


Translator's Footnote

  1. Die Arbeiter Heim - The Worker's Home return

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